I am five minutes away from my place of work in Prudhoe. This information pops up on my mobile. The phone has more computing power than the first astronauts took to the moon. Without such useful information, I wonder how they ever get there?
There are several problems with this message. Firstly, the route takes me the longer way down the bypass and then up a steep old lonnen that was pedestrianised years ago. Secondly, it directs me to the parish church. Thirdly, I gave up work three years ago.
I do indeed go to Prudhoe most days. I start off at Prudhoe Waterworld for a swim, proceed to the Corner Café for a bacon roll, attend morning prayer at the aforementioned church, pop into the thriving Spetchells Centre where I am a trustee and then move on Ginervas Expresso Bar ( voted North East café of the year) to meet my crony of the day.
Last Friday night, the Christmas lights were switched on in front a large and jolly crowd. A brand new high school building opened in September, a fashionable barbers shop is about to be unveiled and a hotel is in the offing. An ageing mining town is reinventing itself. With 400 new houses underway, dare I mention the word ‘gentrification’?
It is about a mile and a half from my house to the middle of Prudhoe and there at least four ways to get there. I can take a brisk 30 minute walk along the West Road enjoying stunning views north across the Tyne Valley. I can cycle in 15 minutes, allowing for the ascent to the aptly named Halfway pub. I can catch the bus from the corner, have a chat at the bus stop, and still be there in ten mins or I can hop in the car and be there in five. Parking is free. How do you think I get there?
At the same time those so called enemies of the people had the audacity to rule against the absolute sovereign right to leave European Union, further along the corridor at the High Court another more crushing judgement was handed down. The judges ruled that the U K government had failed, for the second time running, to comply with European regulations on air pollution. I fear it may somehow be my fault for driving into Prudhoe every day.
The judgement gives the government until next July to come up with a convincing plan to bring air pollution within legal limits. The government admitted in court that plans to combat air pollution had been axed by George Osborne, as a cost cutting measure.
Car exhausts are a major and consistent cause of air pollution. The United Kingdom is second only to scooter riding, sports car driving Italians when it comes to nitrogen dioxide emissions. According to Royal College of Physicians, 40,000 lives a year are lost in the United Kingdom through illness exacerbated by air pollution at a cost to the economy and the health service of £20 bn a year. It recommends that the public help by using more active forms of travel.
The uncomfortable truth is that politically, economically and psychologically we are in hock to the motor car. The government has just announced a major investment in road building to deal with congestion that will be familiar to anyone driving south on a Friday afternoon. The North East is delighted that more cars will be built in Sunderland. Newcastle plans extravagant roundabouts to deal with traffic hold ups and Lord Wolfson announces a £1/4 m prize to anyone who can find clever new ways for cars to get us about more easily.
Diesel is still taxed less than petrol at the pumps even though we now know that petrol is a cleaner fuel. Electric cars are desperately needed but are still impractical. Car manufacturers are allowed to get away with falsifying their emission claims. Heavy traffic stops children playing out or walking to school. Busy roads keep neighbours indoors to the detriment of community life.
Delhi may be the world’s most polluted city. It was closed down the other day to let the smog clear. London is not that far behind. Sadiq Khan is getting to grips with a health hazard that may kill more people than smoking. The government does not monitor air pollution effectively and I doubt if anyone even knows the level of air pollution in Prudhoe. But I should clearly leave the car in the garage for my short daily jaunt.
What would Angela Carter make of it?
A last word for now on the election of Donald Tump from the novelist Angela Carter. I have been reading her newly published biography as my late friend and colleague Carole Howells was confidante and mentor to Angela Carter – as indeed she was to so many of us. Carole kept over 1000 letters that Angela wrote to her which are quoted in the biography.
Like Carole, Angela Carter had forthright views. She lived for periods in the United States during the Reagan years, and thought “of the United States with awe and sadness, that the country has never, ever quite reneged on the beautiful promise inscribed on the Statute of Liberty…and yet has fucked so much up.”
Published in Newcastle Journal 29th Nov 2016